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Ex-Boko Haram child soldier struggles in civilian life, wishes to go back

Ibrahim Kundiri, a former Boko Haram soldier, is seen in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno, Nigeria, on Sept. 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki)

(Mainichi) -- Former child soldiers of Boko Haram, a militant radical Islamic group active mainly in a border region of Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, are facing hardships after being freed, even though they wish to lead a normal life. According to the United Nations, approximately 300 young people had been drafted by Boko Haram as of the end of 2018. One young man who used to fight for the group that the Mainichi Shimbun recently interviewed even said he wanted to go back to Boko Haram.

Ibrahim Kundiri, 18, was rescued by Nigeria's government military last year when he was at the militant group's station near Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno, northeastern Nigeria. He now lives alone at a refugee camp in Maiduguri.

Kundiri lost his parents in 2014 to a clash between the government's armed forces and Boko Haram. With no relatives or places to take shelter, Kundiri and his five siblings knocked on the door of the militant group's base in the south of Borno. He recalled that it was for survival.

For about three months, Kundiri went through the Islamic group's brainwashing education, and after they judged that he could be trusted as a Boko Haram soldier, he was handed a rifle. While some of the boys who were also trained with him looked confused with the weapons, Kundiri had made up his mind.

For some three years since 2015, Kundiri was sent to many battle grounds as a Boko Haram soldier. He told the Mainichi reporter, without showing any feelings, that fighting was a job and it was fulfilling when he was part of battles.

While he has escaped from the group's control, people around him pass judgmental looks. He says, as he looks away from the reporter, no one likes him because they know he once was a child soldier of their hateful enemy Boko Haram.

His older brother is still a Boko Haram fighter and he has been calling Kundiri to come back to the group.

Kundiri said repeatedly that he wanted to go back to Boko Haram if there is a chance and that he just hasn't had it yet. He seemed to be on the verge of being swayed back into the old days, when his life was fulfilling.

But what he really wants is to lead a normal life. He receives aid from various groups, but is unable to find a job because he has not had a formal education.

With a look of giving in and deep sorrow, Kundiri confessed that he just wanted to find a job and if he had one, he wouldn't wish to go back to being a soldier.

(Japanese original by Takashi Okamura, Foreign News Department)

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